‘There’s A Man Down There . . .’

Well, you got me stranded, baby, on the second floor.
You keep tellin’ me, baby, I got to walk out that door.
Uh-uh, baby! Girl, I ain’t walkin’ out that door.
’Cause there’s a man down there, maybe your man. I don’t know.

So sang G.L. Crockett on the record that was bubbling under at No. 130 on the Billboard Hot 100 forty-seven years ago today. Crockett’s 1965 single – on the 4 Brothers label – had been bubbling at No. 111 a week earlier in its first appearance on the chart. It would eventually rise to No. 65 (and to No. 10 on the R&B chart), making Crockett a one-hit wonder on both charts.

So who was G.L. Crockett? Joel Whitburn says in Top Pop Singles that he was born George Crockett in 1928 in Carrollton, Mississippi, and he passed on in 1967. Wikipedia adds that he was also known as G. “Davy” Crockett and that he passed on in Chicago. There’s more information in a biographical sketch at Black Cat Rockabilly Europe, and a couple of his records show up occasionally in anthologies. (Interestingly, even though Crockett is tabbed as a blues singer, an alternate take of his first single, “Look Out Mabel,” recorded in 1957, showed up in the rockabilly series That’ll Flat Git It.)

But if Crockett is less than well-known, the song is not. Most folks my age likely know the tune from the incendiary live version by the Allman Brothers Band called “One Way Out” and found on the 1972 album Eat A Peach. The song began its malleable life, however, as a rollicking tune from the pen of Sonny Boy Williamson II (Aleck Miller) under the title of “One Way Out.” Here’s his 1961 version, released on Checker.

Wikipedia notes, “As with many blues songs, the history of ‘One Way Out’ falls into murk.” From digging through websites and files this morning, it seems that although Williamson wrote the song, he was not the first to record it. Elmore James got hold of “One Way Out” and smoothed some rough edges when he recorded it (likely for either the Fire or Fury label) in New York City in late 1960 or early 1961, according to Wikipedia. At the same time, James and Marshall E. Sehorn (perhaps the session’s producer?) claimed writing credit, an act of appropriation that was common at the time. James’ version of the tune, however, wasn’t released until 1964, when it was used as a B-Side for a single on the Sphere Sound label.

And in 1965, when Crockett’s sly adaptation of the song came out on the 4 Brothers label, he and producer Jack Daniels, in their turn, claimed writing credit. Most sources these days properly credit Williamson (which carries with it some irony, as Williamson, of course, famously appropriated the name of another famous harp-playing bluesman for his own).

From there, the song went on to become a standard of the Allman Brothers Band and to be covered by numerous other bands and performers. The website Second Hand Songs lists sixteen versions altogether (though I suspect there are far more), with the most recent being versions by the San Francisco band Tip of the Top in 2011, by New England blues singer Perry Desmond-Davies in 2009 and by Styx on its 2005 album of covers, Big Bang Theory.

There were, however, a few stops along the way from Crockett to the Allmans. Crockett’s version – frequently said to have been performed in the style of Jimmy Reed – sparked Reed to record “I’m The Man Down There” on Vee-Jay. And Prez Kenneth, about whom I can find little online, recorded “I Am the Man Downstairs” for the Biscayne label.

Finally, Doug Sahm – Texas musician, musicologist and the leader of the Sir Douglas Quintet – released “It’s a Man Down There” on the Tear Drop label in 1966 under the name of Him.

But no matter who sings it or how it’s sung, the dilemma remains:

Uh-uh, baby. Hell, I ain’t goin’ out that door.
There’s a man down there, maybe your man. How do I know?

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2 Responses to “‘There’s A Man Down There . . .’”

  1. porky says:

    Great post! July was Doug Sahm month at WFMU Ichiban site. Lots of really good posts and info about him, an extraordinary cat. As was his cohort, the Crazy Cajun Huey Meaux.

  2. George Forest says:

    If my memory is correct (holds info like a steel seive), I believe I listened to the Brother’s at The Warehouse in 1971. They began with “No Way Out” and wrapped the song around 60 or 70 minutes of non-stop burning hot hits. I have a copy of it and will try to post.

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